Let’s Review: Pageant dream is a win for family down on its luck in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ at the Playhouse
By Diana Saenger
The adorable Georgi James plays Olive in the La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere musical, “Little Miss Sunshine,” and nothing gets in her way of creating humor and inspiration as the precocious 10-year old who longs to win the title of Little Miss Sunshine in a Redondo Beach pageant.
Though the ensemble cast is terrific at delivering their songs and staying true to their very peculiar characters, it’s James who upholds the show’s joie de vie as a simple little girl who sees beyond family strife to hang on to her dream.
Since her family returned home to Albuquerque after she lost the chance to move forward in the Little Miss Sunshine competition, Olive has moved on to other hopes. But at a family dinner her father (Hunter Foster) reveals there’s a message on the phone about the competition: It seems that due to one girl becoming disqualified, Olive has another chance.
Now everyone at the table must decide what’s next since Olive will need to be back in California almost immediately. Sheryl (Jennifer Laura Thompson), Olive’s mom, thinks about flying but decides they can’t afford that. Grandpa (Dick Latessa), who has been Olive’s dance coach, insists he must go along.
Sheryl has just brought her frenzied brother Frank (Malcolm Gets) home from the hospital after he slit his wrists. She promised the doctor she wouldn’t leave him alone.
Finally, it’s decided that everyone will take the trip in Grandpa’s ailing VW bus. This highly upsets Olive’s brother Dwayne (Taylor Trensch). He’s taken a vow of silence for some 80 days, but he’s adamant about his displeasure over having to go along.
Creating a musical from an Oscar-winning screenplay (2007) is surely a challenge, but it fell into reliable hands with Tony and Pulitzer-winning director/writer James Lapine and his long-time collaborator William Finn, the composer/lyricist.
I found some of the songs very peculiar (this is an odd family story that sticks closely to that of the film) but apropos, as today’s world is a far cry from “The Little House on the Prairie.”
Still, with Frank trying to get over his gay partner deserting him, Grandpa singing explicit words to Dwayne to have lots of sex with girls and some profanity, I wouldn’t recommend this play for children, even though the pageant idea sounds fun.
The stage set plays a character of sorts in the action and is extremely well done. Scenic designer David Korins and lighting designer Ken Billington handled the difficulty of a drama that unfolds through a road trip with great creativity. The props, moving scenery and different sizes of the VW van with terrific lighting and even some special effects, brings the story to visual life.
If you go
What: Premiere of the musical version of the 2007 film, “Little Miss Sunshine”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays and 7 p.m. Sundays through March 27
Where: La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre,
2910 La Jolla Village Dr,
Contact: (858) 550-1010 www.lajollaplayhouse.org
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